No one to talk to
After driving alone four hours from a weekend tour of duty as groom to my wife and her horse, Woods Hole looked good. There are times when you don't want to talk with anyone, meet anyone, hear anyone. Then there are times when, after a weekend in service to creatures that whinny, neigh, push you around, and do their business frequently and indiscriminately, with a cavalier take-care-of-that-fella-will-you attitude, you'd like to see a friend or two and have a chat. Island Home was waiting in the slip, and I thought, here's some luck. When you're looking for someone to chat with, the gargantuan Island Home presents a target-rich environment.
The first person I saw was the plumber, awfully nice guy. His kid played soccer with one of mine. I said hello. He held up a finger, putting me on hold. He was on his cell, talking traps and valves. It looked like a long conversation.
"How many bars have you got?" Someone behind me was talking on her phone and talking to her friend at the same time. Her friend was talking on his cell, one of the new iPhones, I noticed, but he wasn't talking to the girl next to him. He held up a finger to her and mouthed the words, "Two and a half bars."
I saw the teller from the bank. She waved, and I thought, here's someone to talk to, but when she turned, I could see she was on the phone. But suddenly, she clapped the phone shut, and said, "I lost the call. Got to find a receptacle, my battery's almost dead." She shrugged and hurried off.
The guy from the drug store bumped into me and said, "How come it didn't ring? Must be a text."
I saw an elderly lady who's been into the office from time to time bringing me clippings from magazines and other newspapers. She is a self-appointed editorial board. She waved me to a seat near her. She said, "I can't figure out how to open this attachment. I got this phone for the e-mail, but it won't let me open the attachments. I can download songs, take pictures, change the ring tones, but my grandson has sent me a photo of himself at Disneyworld, and I can't figure out how to open it. Can you help, you have so many computers in your office."
I said, "Sorry, I'm no good at tech stuff. Good luck."
Stunned at the decline in sociability - after all, we aboard Island Home are neighbors, on the way home from a weekend with stories to tell - I scanned the vast expanse of the ferry's main passenger deck. Everywhere I looked, familiar faces had cell phones or MP3 players attached. The Babel of their conversations eclipsed the purser's announcement that someone's Mercedes was sounding its theft alarm.
I'm not alone in noticing the cultural shift that has interposed these devices between us. The web is littered with sites advising on cell phone etiquette, but the message is mixed. For instance, LetsTalk offers all the advice you could want on cell phone behavior, except "Shut the thing off." LetsTalk was founded in July, 1999. A privately held company in San Francisco, it describes itself as an "independent resource for wireless products and services for consumers and enterprises." Get that - a resource.
LetsTalk suggests you can have your phone and use it too, no matter where you are. For instance, "Many establishments ask customers to refrain from using cell phones, but no one wants to actually miss a call." That's not true. I often want very badly to miss calls. LetsTalk continues, "What if you're in the movies and the babysitter is frantically trying to reach you? No worries." Put the phone on vibrate, LetsTalk advises. Then, I suppose, just pick the jiggling device up and see what the babysitter is freaking out about, and never mind the drama nearing its climax on stage in front of you and your fellow audience members. LetsTalk also suggests that if you're in close quarters with strangers, keep your cell conversation brief. What about, "Don't talk on the phone when you're in the company of friends or strangers." Why don't they give that advice? You won't find it on LetsTalk.
Aboard Island Home, I realized I wasn't home at all. It was hopeless. In the mood for a chat, and everyone's on the phone, I took out my copy of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture, by Andrew Keen. Rounding the number two buoy off West Chop, a guy I didn't recognize stopped at my seat. He had a cell phone pressed to his ear. He said, "Say, could you move your seat, just for a minute or so. I think the signal's stronger there, just where you're sitting."